|In Short:||A convict's brother gives him a gland that lets him turn invisible at will, and a secretive government agency co-opts him as an agent.|
|DARIEN:||There once was a story about a man who could turn invisible. I thought it was only a story... until it happened to me. Okay so here's how it works. There's this stuff called quicksilver that can bend light. Some scientists made it into a synthetic gland, and that's where I came in. See, I was facing life in prison, and they were looking for a human experiment. So, we made a deal. They put the gland in my head, I walk free. The operation was a success, but that's where everything started to go wrong.|
|-- Opening voiceover|
Meet Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca). Slacker? Sure. Underachiever? Of course. But he doesn't steal because he's a bad guy or he's made bad choices. He steals because he's really good at it. He likes sticking it to the man. His brother is a brilliant scientist, and Darien isn't interested in trying to live up to his example. Let Kevin (David Burke) be the bright child; Darien just coasts along in his shadow. Things are going fine in Darien's life until one of his victims suffers a heart attack and Darien puts off his escape to save the man's life. Captured not only as a thief but a molester of the elderly (he was giving the man CPR when the cops arrived), Darien has a one-way ticket to jail. Fortunately Kevin has government contacts and gets Darien freed if he agrees to be part of a scientific experiment.
Kevin created a invisibility gland which secretes a substance known as quicksilver. The gland is put into Darien's brain for human testing. Somehow the surgery is completed without shaving a single strand of that glorious mane of hair. It can be activated by fear or adrenaline, but Kevin helps Darien learn how to control the ability so he can go invisible at will.
Once the training sequence is over, the slimy foreign scientist Arnaud (Joel Bissonette) makes his move and assaults the compound where Darien is being held. Explosions, bloody murders, and tons of gunfire result in Kevin dying and Darien escaping Arnaud's capture. In order to survive, Darien needs regular injections of counteragent. Seems exposure to the quicksilver has the slight side effect of making its host... um... completely batshit insane. So Darien reluctantly joins forces with the agency his brother developed the gland for in order to bring down Arnaud and get justice for Kevin.
Darien is new to the agency, but his gland makes him one of their most valuable assets. He's teamed with Bobby Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor), a slick agent whose depression and paranoia has made him persona non grata at all of the "real" government agencies. Hobbes is borderline insane but, in a pinch, there's no one you would rather have on your side.
After some initial distrust (Darien gets paid more than Hobbes, despite being brand-new), they quickly settle into the buddy-cop formula. They learn how to trust each other while also figuring out how far they can push each other.
This show is just about one of the best mixes of stand-alone episodes and arc episodes that I've ever seen. Darien stays with the Agency in order to track down Arnaud and, in the meantime, helps them with their weird, wild, unusual cases… except when they have to take milk runs for the Department of Fish and Game (but even those usually turn into something wild and wacky). Their monsters are usually Science Run Amok, or government experiments gone haywire, since that’s basically what Darien is.
It also had one of the most incredible (and earliest) online presences of the genre. The fans were big supporters of the show from the very start, using the Sci-Fi Channel website to coordinate their fan works. The show took notice of this and thanked fans with in-story shout outs. Starting in Season 2, the names of several bulletin board members were hidden in the theme song. The next-to-last episode of Season 1 had two-parts, and the producers let the online fans vote for what Hobbes would do to resolve the cliffhanger. They loved and appreciated their online fans in a way it would take other series years to match.
It's hard to describe just what the series is. Science-fiction, sure, with its glands and scientific experiments gone wrong. But it is also a spy show, a comedy, a buddy-cop show, a conspiracy series. In Season 2, they added Brandy Ledford to the cast as... I don't know. Sex appeal for the boys? I don't know why, the Keeper (Shannon Kenny) was more than enough for me. (Ahh, Claire.)
I hadn't seen an episode of the show in TEN YEARS when I got the DVDs from Amazon. Watching it was like opening a time capsule. And while some of it is a little dated (in an episode where an evil new boss used Fawkes for political assassinations, Hobbes snapped, "Who's your next mission, huh? Saddam? Bin Laden?"), the rest of it holds up really well. I was surprised with how non-cheesy the special effects were.
The show never really got the respect it deserved. While it was on, Sci-Fi was also airing new episodes of Farscape and Showtime was still airing Stargate SG-1. The science fiction community was already pulled in two directions and the show -- please pardon this -- was pretty much invisible. It wasn't cancelled because of low ratings; it was a matter of cost and the fact Sci-Fi and the USA Network were having a tiff. Its fans were vocal, loyal, and hopefully one day there will be a release of the second season on DVD (although considering how long it's been since the first season came out and the horrifically reduced price... while great for me, it wasn't exactly the best sign).
The Invisible Man was my introduction to online fandom, a place that has changed my life. All these years later, only the diehard fans really even remember a little story about an invisible secret agent. Hopefully the fact that SOME DVDs are out there will introduce new people to a great little show.
-- Geonn Cannon